Saturday, 10 December 2011

On stretching my comfort zone

My new job is going well.  It took about 2 months, but my Director did find something to stretch my comfort zone last month, which he jokingly referred to as a “poisoned chalice”.  Based on how well I handled that, he took me for coffee earlier this week and outlined “Project Poisoned Chalice II”, which is the sort of project I was expecting after a couple of years with the company, not a couple of months! While initially somewhat thrown by it, a couple of days on, I’m feeling quite excited by the whole thing.

Firstly, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”  I’m choosing to believe that I can do this.  Therefore, whether it’s possible or not is no longer in doubt, and the question becomes “How do I do that?”.  And figuring that out is one area in which I excel!  I can see the broad outline – I know what I’m trying to build – so everything from here on is figuring out what materials and tools I need, and how to combine them.  Logistics and creativity and logical steps are my bread-and-butter.  Sure, I’m going to need to learn how to use some new tools, and I’ll probably have to figure out how the claw side of a hammerhead works as well as the hammer side,  but there’s manuals for that.  To whit, I have just bought a couple of books related to the work I’m now supposed to be doing, and just need to find the time to gut them for info.

Using another conceptualisation, I can liken this to the Obeng project type “Going on a Quest” where what is to be done is clear, but how it is to be done is not, and the “business” is trying to do something it hasn’t done before.  Given the content of this particular project, I’d like to see it move within a couple of cycles into “Painting by Numbers”.  What’s we’re doing is new to us, but not novel in the wider world.  This, of course, makes it easier because there are techniques and pitfalls and the like documented...somewhere.  (The projects that spin off this one, however, will fall into any or all of the project types, and will need handling appropriately.  So the one I’m currently focussing on is a meta-project, if you will, which will define the actual projects to be done to impact our bottom line.)  Oooh! Metaphor alert!  We are indeed Questing at this stage, but not for the answers.  We’re Questing for the right set of tools and techniques for this company in this situation to enable us to produce The Plan.  And once we have the answers, we can see the spin-off/subsidiary projects, and can tackle them by whatever means are necessary.

Since my best workshops are those with an extended metaphor to make them somewhat more fun than your average Corporate Re-Engineering Day, in my head this combines with my Dungeons & Dragons hobby to become:
Phase I – map the dungeon we’re in, recruit allies/party members, find where the treasure is and slay any monsters between us and the goodies (do research! of everything! find mentors!)
Phase II – identify the treasure (Magic item? Non-magical weapon? Vorpal sword? Healing potion? etc) and figure out what’s useful in this context right now, what should be stored for the future, and what can be discarded
Phase III – Use the treasure to escape from the dungeon (aka complete Poisoned Chalice II by finishing the meta-project)
On-going maintenance – every 6-12 months do another dungeon sweep to update the meta-project and see if there’s anything else to be learned or slain that’s popped up while we weren’t looking.

Phases I and II are my research and prep stages, while Phase III is the most visible aspect of the project to everyone else.  Of course, I may need to make this somewhat that less geeky before using it in my office...